Do you remember The Beatles song “I Want to Hold Your Hand”? The lyrics suggest we feel happy and loved when we hold hands and, after the research I’ve just read, The Beatles were on to something important. Science has explored and now supports the many benefits of holding hands. In the palms and fingertips of our hands is a large concentration of nerve endings. Holding hands stimulates the nerves in our skin, which communicate with our core nervous system to produce hormones that create feelings of pleasure, safety, security, friendship, and comfort.
Science shows us that holding hands reduces stress by lowering the stress hormone cortisol, which gives our immune system a boost. When our immune system is strengthened we’re better able to resist infections. In the past we may have taken a friend or spouse to the doctor’s office with us so there’s a hand to hold while we work through a difficult diagnosis. Connecting through our hands helps discourage fear as well.
Holding hands lowers blood pressure, which in turn helps protect our hearts. Feeling good protects our mental health because that hand connection expresses love, support, and bonding. It’s the hormone oxytocin that gives this benefit, stimulating empathy and communication between the people involved. Holding hands before bed produces feelings of calm that help us relax easily into a restful night’s sleep.
But how do we hold hands during a pandemic? It’s easy for those of us who live with other people to make that daily connection. For those of us living alone it is more challenging, but not impossible. With some imagination, our touch needs can be met in new ways. When we need that personal human connection we can meet with a friend who is practicing COVID safety, wear a mask, use plenty of hand sanitizer, and go for a walk while social distancing. Here we can use eye contact and words to affirm a supportive bond. Or we can meet in a park and visit sitting under a tree, letting our presence be the bridge to comfort and friendship.
If we’re living alone with pets and need to stay home, we can meet these needs by holding and stroking our furry friends. For those of us who are without pets and must stay indoors, the next best thing is Zooming into a Friends After Diagnosis support group meeting or calling a Friend from the list at the bottom of every FAD email. These are people who know how to listen, and they understand the difficult places we navigate during cancer, COVID, or any crisis.
The following is a beautiful poem I recently read about the gift we give each other when we compassionately hold each other’s hands in whatever way possible:
“Will you…Hold my hand for a little while?
I don’t need you to save me
No need for you to fix anything
But will you simply hold my hand?
I do not need your words
Nor your shoulders to carry me
But will you sit here for a while with me?
Whilst my tears they stream
Whilst my heart it shatters
Whilst my mind plays tricks on me
Will you with your presence let me know that I am not alone, whilst I wander into my
For my darkness is mine to face
My pain is mine to feel
And my wounds are mine to heal
But will you sit here with me, while I courageously show up for it all my dear?
For I am bright because of my darkness
Beautiful because of my brokenness
And strong due to my tender heart
But will you take my hand lovingly, when I sometimes journey into the dark?
I don’t ask for you to take my darkness away
I don’t expect for you to brighten my day
And I don’t believe that you can mend my pain
But I would surely love if you could sit for a while and hold my hand, until I find my way out
of my shadowland!
So will you….Hold my hand until I return again?”
~ Zoe Johansen
We’re living in the shadowland of COVID, and it is not going away anytime soon. We all need to pay attention to our health by nurturing ourselves, and one effective and simple way to do that is holding hands with the people we love. Now more than ever, it is essential to experience the loving, comforting, bonding gifts of touch. Whatever we’re going through, wherever we are in our shadowland, let’s hold each other’s hand in whatever way is possible. And when we can’t do that in person, let’s support and hold each other through FAD support group meetings, and phone Friends. No one is alone right now. There are many ways to hold hands. Remember: We always have Friends.
Until Next Time – Sylvia